Genes May Determine How Badly Traffic Pollution Triggers Your Asthma

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Sep 7, 2018

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Air pollution’s effects on asthma is no secret — it worsens symptoms and may even contribute to causing the condition. But a new study suggests that, for people with a certain genetic profile, traffic pollution might be an especially dangerous asthma trigger.

This finding, published in Scientific Reports, will eventually enable clinicians to conduct genetic screenings on patients with severe asthma and treat their symptoms in a more targeted way, says the study’s author.

“All humans have the same genes, in other words, the same basic instructions. But in some people, one DNA base pair has been changed,” says co-lead author Dr Shepherd Schurman, the associate medical director of the Clinical Research Unit at the US’s National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS). “This common type of genetic variation … can alter the way proteins are made and make individuals more or less prone to illness.”

Schurman, with lung disease expert Dr Stavros Garantziotis, medical director of the NIEHS Clinical Research Unit, looked at four genetic variations that are involved in initiating inflammatory responses in the body, and studied the effects of traffic pollution on asthmatics with such genetic code. They gathered genetic data on more than 2,700 people with asthma, identifying them as likely to be highly or less likely to be susceptible to inflammation from traffic pollution. They then used participants addresses to determine proximity to major roads, where traffic pollution is statistically highest.

Sure enough, they found that compared to asthmatics without these genetic twists (SNPs), who were also exposed to high levels of traffic pollution, asthmatics genetically prone to inflammation and exposed to high levels of smog did indeed experience worse asthma symptoms.

“This research is a great example of how we can approach disease prevention on a personal level, and tailor our treatments to suit individual patients,” says Garantziotis. “That way we can be more efficient with our treatments and preventative measures, while at the same time cutting health care costs.”

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Written By Angelina Shah

Angelina Shah is a staff writer with The Swaddle. In her previous life she was a copywriter in advertising. She has a penchant for reading, singing, travelling and being obsessed with superheroes.

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